I don’t travel by bus often; my commute is by car and day trips are usually on the train. Today I handed over my car keys for a few days, the squeaks and rattles from under the bonnet getting to be a bit too much. Back on the main road I sheltered out of the wind and waited for the purple monstrosity to pull up to the kerb then I lined up patiently as the small gathered queue re-assembled itself from seats and doorways. We are all polite, stepping aside and waving others on first.
Inside the bus I settle down next to a short but wide Asian woman, her grey-black hair pulled back into a neat plait. Across the aisle from us an Indian man with a touch of Amitabh Bachchan about him waves his twisted walking stick in the air. As each passenger walks along the aisle to grab a seat he speaks to them incoherently. I make eye contact with the woman next to me and we share a quiet moment. “He seems to know everybody” I joke. “I think he’s drunk” she replies. We both know she’s right but it seems impolite to suggest that such a thing could be true.
Next he shouts “born free! Die free! No money!” in a strongly accented Indian accent, and shakes his stick at the passengers. We all of us sit outside the exclusion zone that has automatically built up around him, looking but also looking the other way. He mumbles loudly, gesturing at things the rest of us simply can’t see. In the seat behind him a tiny girl has her eyes open wide in terror as he talks at her, his words possibly slurred, possibly foreign; we simply can’t tell.
As we pull into town, at the stop before mine, there’s a change of driver so the Indian man stands to mumble at the departing driver. He slips away without saying goodbye, leaving behind only a shared look, driver to driver.
The new driver takes no prisoners. “We’ll have none of that. Sit back down and shut up. The rest of us haven’t been in the pub today”. The asian woman shifts in her seat and for a moment I think she’s going to leave the bus, impatient at the changeover, embarrassed by the bad behaviour. Instead she settles back down, saying “uncomfortable seat”.
The bus pulls away from the kerb and is soon at my stop. As I leave the man has started to sing. It could be “My Way” but I’m not quite sure. I wish the driver good luck and head on my way home.